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European Liberals to back Verhofstadt as Commission head

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(BRUSSELS) - European Liberal parties have chosen former Belgian premier and leading lawmaker Guy Verhofstadt to be their candidate to head the European Commission when Jose Manuel Barroso steps down later this year.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, one of the largest groups in the European Parliament, chose Verhofstadt rather than EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, a Finn who has become identified with the harsh austerity policies adopted to tame the debt crisis.

ALDE president Graham Watson said Rehn will seek one of the major economic or diplomatic posts which will come available when the Commission and the European Council, now headed by Belgian Herman Van Rompuy, get a complete new leadership later in 2014.

There will be elections for the European Parliament in May but appointments to the Commission will largely be made by member states -- although they are supposed to take into account the result of the popular vote.

ALDE party sources said there had been concern a Rehn-Verhofstadt stand-off risked harming the party when it gathers in Dublin next month to formally name its commission candidate.

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